It was fitting that the #Walk4Justicefor theWrongfullyIncarcerated began on Mothers' Day (May 8) in Harlem. More frequent exonerations are finally bringing into focus the double trauma inflicted on innocent persons forced into involuntary communities, often far from home, for decades or for generations. However, the devastation visited upon the families, especially parents and children, is still largely unrecognized outside the circles of advocates for mental health or the imprisoned. 

The purpose of the 8-day, 140-mile walk which culminated on Monday, May 16 in visits with Albany lawmakers, was to draw attention to the plight of those who, after being incarcerated for crimes they did not commit, are released without prompt and adequate restitution to help begin reconstructing their lives. 

"It is past time for a better, fairer  system," said Sharonne Salaam, the walk's coordinator. "One that is as eager to correct its wrongs and repair some of the harm done as it was to destroy our lives." 

Salaam, whose son Yusef was only 15 when he and four other boys, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise (known together as the Central Park 5) were arrested and charged with the 1989 rape and beating of a jogger in Central Park, led the March along with her exonerated son and her daughter, Aisha. 

 

A process that included coerced false confessions, inadequate police investigation, and serious violations of rights led to the boys coming-of-age behind bars, where some expected them to be brutalized and preyed upon. Instead, at certain facilities, they were protected by political prisoners -- mainly former Black Panthers -- who understood the true nature of the "criminal justice system."

 

Exonerated in 2002 after each serving 7 to 13 years, in 2003, they filed a lawsuit which New York City did not settle until 2014 -- a settlement that denied any compensation for their seriously harmed family members. Their suit against New York State continues. 

 

A bill byNYS Assemblyman Keith Wright (A 10169)would mandate free tuition at NY's public colleges and monetary awards for the wrongfully incarcerated person and his/her children, and other benefits. 

 

Among the marchers were the mother of Jon-Adrian Velazquez (http://www.freejonadrianvelazquez.org)and the relatives of Cornell student Peter Mesko. Joining at certain venues were exonerees Jeffrey Deskovic (http://www.deskovic.org) and Bill Bastuk (http://www.itcouldhappen2you.org/)  All parties support another bill (A 1131 / S 24) to create a Commission on Prosecutorial Misconduct along the lines of the Commission on Judicial Misconduct,which could be voted before the legislative session ends in early June. 

 

If the warm welcomes along the way are any indication, New York's social justice movements are alive and strong. Organizations including WESPAC, the NAACP, CAAMI (Capital Area Movement Against Incarceration), the Universalists, the Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Buddhists of the Peace Pagoda, restaurants, an ice cream truck, businesses, families, and individuals fed and housed the marchers, and hosted events in towns and cities on the march route

 

Organizers of the Walk4Justice are urging New York State residents to join them in urging their legislators to support the various bills to begin bringing justice to the wrongfully incarcerated.

 

For a 13-minute video report on the Walk4Justice, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yy5LbfpLIi8

 

To learn more about Justice 4 the Wrongfully Incarcerated, you can visit them online at http://justice4thewrongfullyincarcerated.org/

or on their Facebook page at:

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